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Dog People

Most folks in Colorado could only watch with interest when the Westminster Kennel Club met at Madison Square Garden last week for the most elite of canine competitions. Though Westminster's incredible parade of spit-shined dogs, groomed hair by hair and led around the ring by formally attired professional handlers, was beamed across the country on the USA network, it wasn't exactly an experience one could touch, feel or smell.

But a week later, we get our chance to marvel, first hand, at the great variety that characterizes the dog world: From the tiniest terriers to the regal Great Danes, our own cavalcade of show dogs will prance this weekend at the Rocky Mountain Classic Dog Show, a joint venture of the Colorado and Plum Creek kennel clubs, beginning Thursday at the National Western Complex. Dogs and their owners will prance, that is -- and, as anyone who's tuned in to Westminster knows, the owners are a breed apart.

Earl Gebhardt, longtime president of the Colorado Kennel Club, says it simply: "It's a good hobby." And by breeding pedigreed pooches and teaching the pampered ones to mind their manners and follow commands, dog people also give the dogs a good reputation in the community at large. "Showing comes secondary to that," he insists. Show dogs are first and foremost beloved members of the family.


Rocky Mountain Classic Dog Show

National Western Complex, I-70 and Brighton Boulevard

8 a.m.-8 p.m., February 15-19,$2

Gebhardt's own dog of choice is the puli, a Hungarian sheepdog with a big brain and unusual looks -- like its larger cousin, an eye-catching guard dog known as the komondor, the puli looks a little like a Shirley Temple wig (or, at least, a very elegant wet mop), sporting black corkscrew cords that cascade to the floor. In layman's terms, the puli is adorable, but it's also athletic and fun-loving, and an ultra-responsible herder capable of understanding up to 75 commands. Other breeds, Gebhardt notes, top out around sixteen. For him, it was love at first sight after a rescued puli "adopted" him thirty years ago. Understandably so.

However, rest assured: You don't have to go exotic if you choose to step into the ring with Fido. The hottest dogs are still the old favorites -- terriers, cocker spaniels, golden retrievers and the like. There hasn't been a trendy breed, Gebhardt says, since the shar-pei first hit. So go, dog, go.


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